Have fun: What is that suppose to mean?

My thank you, Anna Loseva! And also my apologies for using your question to actually get back to a topic that is close to my heart and see where I am now in practice with this concept of FUN. As I wrote back in 2013, the word FUN is used to market English schools (at least this is true for Brazil), and much of that leads to misconceptions about what learning is. But students insisting of “having fun” is a valid one and it provoked me to investigate this phenomena a bit further.

My comment on Anna’s post on FB.

I’m reading Andrew Weiler‘s book Unlocking Learning and I found this explanation of “not fun” useful. He’s refering to kids when he says that “no fun” means to them that a task makes no sense or is too difficult. Then later on, he writes: “We learn to recognise what tasks we need to spend time at now and which we need to set aside for a later date. Only when we truly ready are we able to feel comfortable devoting as much time as we want, or need, to gain mastery.” Among many things he discusses (his book btw, worth reading), he says that most people are attracted to games for precisely this reason. Games satisfy an inherently human instinct: mastery of the self. By mastering the game, we are practicing this skills in a way that is fun and challenging. I agree with Kevin Stein. My suggestion is shift the focus from the language to the task where language is the mean to achieve an end. In group, students with different knowledge and skills in English can come together to support each other when they have a common goal. I’ll look for practical examples of how this could be achieved. Not sure though how you are expected to teach where you are. be back later. ah, to achieve the goal they also need clear instructions of what to do (written form I think works best so they can read together and explain to each other) and ways to scaffold (make sure they can achieve it).

In my first post entitled “A Journey in Understanding Playfulness“, I argue that not all games are fun when the ludicity element of it is not present and also that choice and negotiation plays an important role toward the feeling of satisfaction. If you are forced to play a game, it’s not fun as much that it is not fun to be forced to do an activity or a task you have zero or little interest in. This study made a huge impact on how I view engagement and made me research a new topic, that is, the role of TASK in language learning.

In the GAME, the RULES, the MOMENT: Who owns it? (Nov 12, 2013) my former student who is a girl, a gamer (she can talk to any boy about trendy games), a drawing artist who loves manga culture and very critical made a good point in her feedback when she said that the TEACHER owns the game, not the students. Now how can we bring something to class which is so subjective and turn it into a learning experience instead of just a game that can mean different things to different people.

At the end of 2013, I made a list to keep a number of things in mind. I gotta say that this was liberating and ever since I feel much better about the choices I have to make in class.

I started 2014 with a new view of games and I learned for instance that when choosing one, I have to make sure that all learners are able to fully participate, and to create a supporting atmosphere. I’ve also learned to never base the choice of a game on a language point alone, but rather give some thought on the pedagogical reasons to use it, and adapt in order to provide the support that everyone needs.

Or how about using party games to make use of the language more authentic? But again, it’s always important to remember that using games demands the right environment. Children are all for games and game-like activities. Teens are picky and can really refuse to play a game that didn’t catch their interest or they think it is so difficult that they will fail. Teens can play the rebel when they are afraid of doing something and lose face in front of their peers. And usually, others support the friend(s) in the rebel act just for the fun of it.

Here is a series of activities I used and reflected on:

Short segment of a TV series episode: Engaging learners with a clip where the focus is understanding the scene, understanding what they are saying by discussing meaning of key words (straightshooter X cheerleader) and raising discussions around the themes that emerge. This can be teacher led if it is a small group, or learners discuss in groups then present their conclusions to the whole group and teacher mediate the new discussions that emerges.

Giving opinions: TV series, movies, music, games, youtube videos, books, animes, mangas, comic books are usually great for teens. If they don’t like one type of genre, they’ll surely like another. Starting from what they like is really important to foster engagement. But we have to keep in mind that lower levels do not know enough language to express themselves. Group of three where a more competent learner can serve as scriber to put down the group opinion is wonderful way to include everyone’s voice. The written form can also serve as material to use later as reading.

Engaging Learners through Feedback: I’m a firm believer in Feedback where it empowers learners and raise the quality of interaction and engagement.

Adapting the textbook: there is a lot of grammar disconnected sentences learners have to work with. The text presents itself in a boring way. I learned from John Fanselow that we should find ways to engage learners with the text by not revealing too much too soon. Perhaps even changing the layout of the text. Finding ways to raise their curiosity to uncover the message.

Another example of adapting texts and boring exercises.

Gamification as a management tool: Peers can push each other to do things that we teachers can’t. I sometimes forget the lessons I learn. Not sure this works for everytime though. I need to revise this one.

Adapting ideas to my context: It focus on collaboration and competition.

Encouraging questions and writing in groups: collaborative writing is a supporting tool for mixed-levels groups. Trick though is to put learners together to get the most of it. Not all groups work out.


5 thoughts on “Have fun: What is that suppose to mean?

  1. Hiya Rose,

    I’m not really a fun teacher and I find that here in Japan kids are brainwashed into thinking that every English lesson must involve games. This does not always mean ‘task’, sometimes it simply means bingo, hangman or something. It’s not always communicative; sometimes it is used only as reward for something trivial.

    One thing that has worked in the past is having kids make their own games. Harness their creative energies and have them engage meaningfully with rules, pieces and design thinking. The games are wonderful to see in development, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I see then that’s not different from Brazil. I see the value in games even bingos for that matter, but games as you say serves other purposes. That’s one more thing that we have to educate students of. Kind of wastes lots of energy battling with them. That’s why I find tasks in mixed levels and groups of higher than elementary level used. Lower Levels has other things to consider when choosing games. The spending time on creating is useful for sure.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for another stimulating post! How do you manage to write so many so quickly?

    I had a lot of fun in my classes and I think my students did too. I very seldom got students to play games, though. My aim was to provide them with linguistic challenges that they could solve for themselves. I believe all human beings enjoy confronting challenges and overcoming them – we develop our capabilities that way and feel smart. I don’t pretend it’s easy to find challenges adapted to all of a heterogeneous group of students, but that was my challenge as a teacher and I had a lot of fun trying.

    Now I’ve given myself the challenge of transferring what I did in the classroom to on-line exercises. It’s very difficult – but very enjoyable.

    I find some teachers confuse having fun in the language (non-linguistic tasks, games…) and having fun learning the language in a game-like way.


    Liked by 3 people

    • It usually takes me a whole day to write them Glenys. I do have loads of notes around and I use evernote to document practice and do my reflections. Sometimes the challenge is just to format it coherently for others to read and avoid the typos. It’s hard with so many distractions and duties but I give my best and it’s a great PD exercise which I value.

      “I find some teachers confuse having fun in the language (non-linguistic tasks, games…) and having fun learning the language in a game-like way.”
      Exactly! Teachers and Students, I must say wasting precious time.

      About three years ago, Penny Ur replied to a teacher in a forum saying that we ought to think about how much time learners are engaged WITH the language in a game. Guessing games are not so productive and she explained why, although it is very popular. That thought made me think of time being wasted. Sometimes, because learners don’t understand that, I do see myself having to give in from time to time too, and consciounsly knowing that we are wasting precious class time. It’s painful, but I feel like I lost a batttle but not the war. 😉 I keep trying to change their view of language learning, it’s not easy though. It’s a cultural fight.


  3. As I wrote back in 2013, the word FUN is used to market English schools (at least this is true for Brazil), and much of that leads to misconceptions about what learning is.

    Heh ; – ))

    Liked by 1 person

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